Federal labor regulators accused Starbucks on Wednesday of illegally closing 23 stores to suppress organizing activity and sought to force the company to reopen them.
A complaint issued by a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board alleged that Starbucks closed its stores because its employees engaged in union activities or to discourage employees from doing so. At least seven of the 23 stores identified have joined unions.
The agency’s move is the latest in a series of accusations by federal officials that Starbucks violated the law during a two-year labor campaign.
The case is scheduled to go before an administrative judge next summer unless Starbucks reaches a settlement earlier. In addition to asking the judge to order the stores reopen, the complaint wants employees to be compensated for the loss of profits or benefits and other costs they incurred as a result of the closures.
“This complaint is the latest confirmation of Starbucks’ determination to oppose illegal worker organizing,” Starbucks employee Mary Cosgrove said in a statement issued through union spokesperson United Workers United.
“Every year, as a standard business procedure, we evaluate our store portfolio” and typically open, close or change stores, a Starbucks spokesperson said. The company said it opened hundreds of new stores last year and closed more than 100, of which about 3 percent were unionized.
The unionization campaign began in 2021 in the Buffalo, New York, area, where two stores unionized in December of that year, before spreading across the country. More than 350 of the approximately 9,300 company-owned locations have unionized.
The labor board issued more than 100 complaints covering hundreds of accusations of illegal conduct by Starbucks, including threats or retaliation against workers involved in union activity and failure to bargain in good faith. Administrative judges have ruled against the company on more than 30 occasions, although the company has appealed those decisions to the full labor board in Washington. Judges dismissed fewer than five of the complaints.
None of the unionized stores negotiated a labor contract with the company, and negotiations largely stalled. Last week, Starbucks wrote to the labor union saying it wanted to resume negotiations.
According to Wednesday’s complaint, Starbucks managers announced the closure of 16 stores in July 2022, then announced several more closures over the next few months.
Administrative judge Previously ruled that Starbucks had illegally closed a unionized store in Ithaca, New York, and ordered workers back to their jobs with back wages, but the company appealed that decision.
The new complaint was released on the same day that Starbucks released an unclassified copy of an external evaluation of whether its practices were consistent with its stated commitment to workers’ rights. The company’s shareholders voted in favor of the evaluation in a non-binding vote, the results of which were announced in March.
The report’s author, Thomas M. McCall, a former management-side attorney and labor relations official at food and facilities management company Sodexo, wrote that he “found no evidence of an ‘anti-union playbook’ or instruction or training on how to violate U.S. laws.”
But Mr. McCall concluded that Starbucks officials involved in the response to the union drive did not appear to understand how the company was responding. Universal Statement of Human Rights May limit their response The Statement of Rights requires Starbucks to respect employees’ freedom of association and participate in collective bargaining.
Mr. McCall pointed to “alleged unlawful promises and threats” to managers and “alleged discriminatory or retaliatory discipline” as areas where Starbucks could improve.
In a letter linked to the report’s release, the company’s chairman and an independent director said the assessment was clear that “Starbucks has no intention of deviating from the principles of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.” At the same time, the letter added: “There are things the company can and should do to improve its stated commitments and adherence to these important principles.”
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